Looking Back | By: Christopher Bonn Jonnes | | Category: Short Story - Sci-Fi Bookmark and Share

Looking Back



Christopher Bonn Jonnes

"How much longer?" Herman Thebit asked, looking across the
small control room. He shared the two-man, Faster-Than-Light
spacecraft with its pilot and Four Nations representative, John
"Fifty-seven minutes. Isn't your unit operational yet?" John
"It'll be ready," Herman said, gesturing with a bony
translucent-skinned finger at the younger man, "you worry about
stopping this ship where you're supposed to."
John David personified Herman's dislike of the Four Nations
and life on the Unified Earth. He'd been born after the Change, the
bloody revolution that created the Four Nations government and
pulled humanity from the brink of self-destruction forty-five years
John eyed Spear for a moment, shook his head and returned his
attention to the ship's computers and his task of stopping their
spacecraft at the specified point in space and time.
"Those fifty-seven minutes can't go too fast for me," Herman
said as he swiveled his chair and checked a monitor. "Nine months
out here with you is plenty."
"Are you going to start arguing again? It's nine months home,
"You still don't have a clue, do you?"
John rolled his eyes. "You've told me. Sounds like what's
coming out of the universities on the glory of war. It's people
like you who'll lose the Peace for us all. I can't understand why
the Space Council let you fly this mission. They knew you were
bitter because they didn't pick your target for the Scan. You're a
risk. They should've replaced you."
Herman laughed. "Who were they going to get? It was me or no
mission. You're the one they should have replaced. There's a thousand
competent FTL flyers who could've flown this mission, and any of
them would've made better company than you."
John's eyes narrowed.
"You were tit-fed peace," Herman continued, "you've known
nothing else. With your book-learning you're able to spout about
the evils of war and the virtues of a Unified Earth, but what do
you really know? What have you to compare it to? You weren't there.
You can't comprehend war or the passion for life that existed
before the Change simply by reading books or viewing recordings."
John scratched the back of his hand. Clumps of dark hair
covered stubby fingers that appeared better suited to manual labor
than the delicate manipulations of FTL cruiser controls. "I'm tired
of arguing religion and politics. Just make sure your TLS is ready
in time." The Telescopic Light-Scanning device and the information
it would hopefully garner for the Four Nations government were the
basis for their mission and the sole purpose for Herman's presence
aboard the craft. "I only hope your contempt for the Four Nations
hasn't gotten the better of you. If you've sabotaged this mission,
you'll live to regret it."
"Young fool," Herman said, rapping a long finger on his
armrest, "Yes. I'm upset over the target they chose for the Scan,
but you don't understand why. You talk as if I love war and would
like to see the Four Nations dissolved so we can go back to anarchy
and chaos. You forget that I spent thirteen years fighting that
damn war. I saw friends and family fall. I fought my guts out
trying to build the Four Nations so that a snot-nosed generation of
kids like you would never have to know the horror of it all."
"See? There you go again, glorifying it."
"Negative. I hate war more than you'll ever understand,
because I know what it is. You don't. It's not the war that I miss;
it's the feeling of camaraderie people who cared had for one
another. There was a depth that's no longer there. I think the Four
Nations is great, but I don't believe it can maintain the Peace.
Love and peace aren't political things, no matter how many
governments use them as goals. They come from the heart and soul.
You can't mandate or adjudicate them. The Four Nations is
successful because for once peace is what people want. It's the
result, not the cause. Until there's fundamental change in the
inherent nature of Man, war and peace will be a continuous cycle.
I don't fault the Directors or the Space Council for trying, but
the phony props they use to convince the people are ludicrous."
Generations had been born into the Four Nations and known
nothing else. The Unified Earth and the Peace were being taken for
granted by a restless populace. The holocausts were forgotten. The
Four Nations was struggling to keep the people unified in purpose:
maintaining the Peace. Seeds of dissention were sprouting around
the globe. The strict historical education system for teaching the
horror and futility of war was not enough to quell the rising
political spring-fever of the young. Revolution was in the air.
"You're just a cynical old man, Spear."
"Yes, and I'm tired of them selling the Peace like so much
"You act as if peace is a bad thing. What difference does it
make what methods they use if they work?"
"Peace is good. I'm just not sure it's in Man's destiny to
ever get there."
"We're already there! What do you think the Unified Earth is all
"But if you look back through history, my young friend, Man's
greatest moments come during the never-ending struggle for peace, not
during peace. I think that's what God had in mind for us."
"Don't start with the religion. You old guys from before the
Change won't let it go. What had religion done for us in ten-
thousand years? War after war, that's what. Now you say that's
God's plan? Kill each other, century after century, because that's
when we're at our best? They told me God was for love and peace.
I'm glad I never bought into it. Thanks for straightening me out."
Herman moaned as he ran veiny fingers through silver hair.
"Forget God for a second. I believe; you don't. That's fine. Just
let me explain why I think this mission is all wrong."
"Do I have a choice?"
"This is the two-hundredth FTL flight, right? An 'historic'
flight. Let's face it, the first one-hundred and ninety-nine were,
for the most part, a boondoggle."
John threw up his paws and opened his mouth. Herman cut him
"Let me finish. The whole idea of these flights has been to
get whipped out a few parsecs into deep space FTL, and stop. Then
we study the light from a particular stellar object and fly back to
Earth FTL with the images. Because it'll take how-many-ever light-
years for that object's light to reach the Earth, we report what
amounts to Earth's future in relation to that stellar object.
"FTL 101."
"Well, in all those flights, we've seen a few things of
interest, granted, but nothing that's had significant impact on
science or the survival of Man."
"What. Now you're against FTL flights too?"
"No. I'm all for them. That's why I spent my whole life
developing my TLS system. My point is, these flights present
problems for the Directors. They're expensive beyond comprehension;
the young radicals have more to harp on. The Directors have to deal
with the humanitarian issues of crew selection and the impact of
Time Separation on family members. This puts pressure on the
Directors to justify the Space Council's activities. They may lose
the space program.
"Then the two-hundredth flight comes up and the wise
Director's say, 'Let's select an FTL mission worthy of continuing
the program. Make it worthy of such an historic and significant
flight number as two-hundred.' So the search is on; the scientific
community is asked for ideas on an appropriate target.
"That's how I got my chance. I'd been bouncing off the Space
Council's Review Board for ten years with my project, but suddenly
it's of great interest. I made a presentation to the entire Space
Council--not just the Review Board--and a delegation of Four
Nations Directors as well. I described my TLS system and proposed
that for such an historic flight why not, instead of aiming it
toward an unsure future, aim it back at Earth? That got them going.
"Having pondered for decades, I decided that perhaps the most
important event on Earth in the past ten-thousand years was the
birth of Christ. I proposed that be the mission's target."
John's fingers went to the bridge of his nose and he shook his
head. "No wonder they refused. You expected them to set a religious
event as a Scan target? We'd have lost the Peace right then and
"It's a rational choice. Whether or not one believes in Christ
doesn't change the fact that his existence is one of the more
significant unproven events in the history of Man."
"You've got gall going to the Council with such a selfish
request, Spear. Obviously Christ means more to you than anyone
else. Who cares? Why'd they allow you to make this flight?"
"Selfish, perhaps, but remember, I invented the TLS and no one
else can operate it. I've been recording the knowledge and
procedures, but it'll be years before others will be capable. I
expected, given that fact, that I'd have some say in the first
target. And remember, call me a beast, but I'll probably not live
to see the second use of my system. The choice of first target is
of greater importance to me than you. You may live to see a half-
"That's why you've hinted at scuttling this mission: because
you didn't get your way."
"I have not, Mr. David, hinted at scuttling this mission. Do
you believe I'd pass on my only opportunity to witness the use of
the TLS, regardless of the target? There's a significant difference
between expressing discontent and committing sabotage. You suffer
from paranoia, my friend."
"My job is making sure this mission goes as planned."
Herman nodded sardonically and responded to a flashing
prompter at his work station by deftly flicking several switches
and rotating a dial. He smiled inwardly. The TLS was now prepared.
"My frustration with this mission," he said, turning again to
John, "has more to do with why they chose their target than the
target itself. From a scientific standpoint, any target could
provide useful information. Their choice may prove to be as
informative as any. See, the Council, was intrigued by my idea of
looking back. That's why this mission has taken on such importance.
They hit upon the idea of selecting a past Earth target with
significance to the premise of the Four Nations and the Unified
Earth. By showing a key event which supports the doctrine of the
Unified Earth, they'll renew interest and support for the space
program, and it'll be a major coup for their efforts in managing the Peace.
They'll be able to show the world this historical event of which no
recordings exist. No need to rely on the interpretation of ancient
books. What we'll see will be, essentially, live. They hope to
rally the people."
"And that's bad?"
"It's the precedent. It's like propaganda. Here's an
opportunity to look at Man's history, and they pick some
insignificant political event to serve their own purposes rather
than look at, say, an ice-age, or the dinosaurs, or something truly
"Like the birth of Christ?" John smirked.
"Make it Buddah or Muhahmed or anyone else, just not some
political garbage."
"The purpose, Spear, is for the sake of peace. How can that be
"Because politics can't create true peace; it can't change
what's in the heart and mind of men. If men are animals and their
destiny is to fight wars, no political dogma can prevent it. As
much as I'd like to believe, I don't see the Peace lasting. This
mission won't make a difference. It's a wasted opportunity to learn
something significant about the nature of Man. Until we learn what
makes us tick, what makes us make love or war, we'll only be
treating the symptoms."
"Spear, you're misguided. The Peace is simple: without it
there's no war. It's true, I've not experienced war firsthand, but
I've seen enough recordings to know I want none of it. The Four
Nations is fighting to maintain the Peace. That's worthy enough
cause to devote one's life to. What point is there in arguing
whether or not war can be blamed on government or human nature? We
can't change human nature. We can change government. Government's
role should be to maintain peace. Ours does. You somehow feel that
peace is boring, that there's some mystical something about making
war that makes us better people. You're like a kid who stands
around a playground fist fight, fascinated, stirred by some animal
instinct. Maybe you're an animal, Spear, but I've evolved. Don't
include me in your summation of the plight of the Homo Sapien."
Herman crossed his fingers. "John, I don't disagree that
governments should strive for peace. I only wish we'd spend our
time more wisely. It's not only us old ones from before the Change
who've begun to get restless. We shouldn't be wasting the
opportunity this mission affords us on cheap politics. We should be
searching for hard answers to our make-up so that we can all live
in peace happily--if that's possible."
"Possible? We've been doing it for forty-five years."
"Happily? I don't know. Just peace? Yes. We can be proud of
that, but we'll be looking back at it in the future and wondering
why we couldn't keep it going."
"I don't give up as easily as you do, Spear. I joined as a
representative twenty-two years ago. I've devoted my life to this
cause. I've held off on starting a family so I could have the
opportunity to serve my planet by flying for the Space Council. I
spent twelve years in school learning to do the crack-the-whip
maneuvers we do around these star's magnetic fields to go FTL out
here and learn what we can about our future-and now our past. I've
spent nine months flying this thing around and I'm still not
allowed to know what our target is."
"Suppose I tell you?"
"Why do you think you're not allowed to know?"
"Standard security procedure. Too many pilots went space-wacky
with Time Separation," John said, gesturing out at the void, "Too
many decided their target wasn't worth it all and botched the
mission one way or another. They must have explained that in your
"And you think that's all there is to it?"
"Of course. To ensure mission integrity the target's kept
secret from the crew. The Scan assignment is kept sealed as a time-
released computer message until the Scan's to begin. Our flight's
different with you aboard, of course. You know what the target is
but, like you said, they had to send you along anyway to run the
"John, doesn't it seem odd that this wonderful government of
yours doesn't trust you enough to tell you what it is it wants you
to do out here?"
"It's not a matter of trust. It's a rational solution to a
common psychological problem in FTL space travel."
"But how can you trust that the target is worth years of your
"Unlike you, I thought the first one-hundred ninety-nine
missions were worthwhile. I'm willing to take a chance that this
one will be as well. Why do you quibble about everything the
Directors do?"
"There's got to be more to life than just controlling the
"What is it you want?"
"Love I suppose. Take you and me, for example. Neither of us
particularly cares for the other, yet we're able to spend months
together in close quarters without violence. We've controlled
peace. But we're not happy, see? That's what's going on back on
Earth. The Four Nations has kept everyone from each other's
throats, but the tide of dissent is rising. People aren't happy.
The Peace isn't enough."
"You ask a lot," John said, "you're afforded the luxury of
wishing for this ubiquitous love because the burden of war has been
lifted by the Four Nations. You no longer spend your life fighting
wars, but thinking of ways to be happy all the time."
"I agree, and I'm grateful. Yet I wish there was more. I was
hoping my project would be used toward that end."
"There's your human nature: never satisfied. You've got peace and
look at you; you want total love. Next you'll want perpetual
Herman slapped his knee and laughed. "Mr. David, I realize
you're a Company man and I won't cause you undue stress by breaking
your oath of representation and prematurely revealing our mission's
target, although I'm confident you'll be thoroughly pleased with
their decision. I've had a nagging thought, though. What if after
a good Scan the target isn't as expected?"
"What do you mean?"
"You don't know which, but you do know the target is a
political event which supposedly supports the Four Nations
Doctrine. What if what we know about that event is false? What if
after viewing this thing it turns out not to support the cause, but
to be a scandal?"
"Depends on the scandal, but I suppose it could damage the
"You better believe it would. You may not know what the target
is yet, but back on Earth they've been talking this up since the
day we left. They couldn't afford to wait and see the real goods.
They started a PR campaign and have been telling the world what
they're sure they'll see and how great it is. If we don't come
through, the Unified Earth is in jeopardy. So what do you think we
should do if we discover something strange?"
John David rubbed his chin.
"Ah, so there you are," Herman said, "to me the answer is
easy. We bring the bad news back. It's our job to do it for one
thing. That's something you can understand. But more importantly,
if it's the truth, we owe it to the world to share it."
"But if it risks the Peace--"
"Even if it risks the Peace. If the Four Nations isn't strong
enough to withstand a little truth about one of its heroes, it
doesn't deserve to be our government. I believe in survival of the
fittest--even for governments. There may even be some good derived
from such a lesson. Maybe then the world will see the need to study
our real roots, not political roots."
"I don't know," John said, fingers behind the ear now, "that'd
be a tough call. One we're not likely to have to make, though."
"Oh, I wouldn't be too sure about that, Mr. David. I've
studied a bit of history in my time too. Remember, part of my
research was spent choosing an appropriate target for my TLS.
Reality is that much of Earth's history our generation takes for
granted as truth is actually folklore, conjecture, and too often,
wishful thinking or pure fabrication for political expediency. For
two-hundred years before the Change there was one political or
religious purge after another. Most accurate world history has been
destroyed in book burnings and propaganda rewrites. Unfortunately,
centuries worth of recorded history has been lost because the old
celluloid films deteriorated. Since the advent of FTL space travel
and the Council's program of mapping the future, our generation has
turned its back on history. It's as if it was all old news and held
nothing of interest or import. Only fragments remain for us to
piece together to suit our needs."
"I'm sure the Directors took that into account when deciding
on a target."
"The Directors are politicians, not historians. There could be
a surprise in what we'll see. The Directors are taking a chance."

Minutes later, Commander John David brought the Faster-Than-
Light spacecraft to a complete stop in relation to Earth at the
prearranged location 155.52 parsecs from home. There began their
thirty-day research program to scan their appointed target, compile
the data and return to Earth FTL.
Their location in space was five-hundred-seven light-years
from Earth. The light reflected off Earth at that point in space
had left Earth five-hundred-seven years earlier. It contained
Earth's past.
Herman Spear began deploying the scanning devices attached to
the ship's exterior, which would relay data to his series of
onboard computers. He directed the complex scanners toward Earth.
The scanners were not the unique part of Herman's TLS system;
they were essentially the same scanners used in all previous
missions. They were capable of incredibly accurate readings of all
forms of radiation emanating from a particular source. Herman's
system was unique in that it filtered out all but electromagnetic
radiation between 3800 and 7600 angstrom units, to which the human
retina is sensitive: light waves. His series of computers, using
the program he'd developed--the heart of his invention--then
fragmented these light rays, studied them through trillions of
nearly instantaneous computations involving assumptions of what the
light particles reflect by checking them against Herman's pre-
entered catalog of Earth images, and then reconstituting them on a
viewing screen. The result was a surprisingly clear, accurate,
moving, real-time image, which was simultaneously recorded for
future viewing back on Earth. In this case the image would be of
Earth five-hundred-seven years ago. By manipulating the scanners,
Herman could develop an image that represented any part of the
total light source, telescoping to a scene as small as one
recognizable person standing on the planet. The system offered the
capability to watch and record history as it happened.
Sound waves don't travel through space, so the system had its
limitations. The Earth's atmosphere and rotation, too, presented
challenges. By allocating thirty days to the study of a chosen
target, it was hoped that after returning to Earth and having
lip-readers and other experts review the images, a clear idea of
what had transpired could be had.
Herman completed his preparations. Before setting the system
in motion he notified John that the time had come to read the time-
sealed mission instructions.
John punched a personalized code into his terminal and the
machine responded with a short written mission statement, which he
read in silence. A smile came slowly to his lips.
"It's Hitler," he said, "I should have guessed."
"I thought you'd be pleased," Herman said.
"That's brilliant. The Directors can pat themselves on the
back for this one."
"Let's hope you're right."
"How can you even question this as a target? It's perfect.
Hitler's one of the all-time most respected heroes of the Four
Nations. He epitomizes everything the Doctrine stands for. If your
contraption here works and were able to pick up some of those
legendary speeches he gave, the Peace will last a thousand years.
He's the founding father of the concept of the Unified Earth."
"We don't know that much about him."
"What more is there to know? He was an incredible orator, able
to rally millions to his cause; and his cause was a Unified Earth."
"The facts may have been distorted over the years. Remember,
so much has been lost--"
"I know why this bothers you. He wasn't a religious man. You
hate the idea of idolizing any important man who hasn't achieved
greatness through means you approve of."
"Not true," Herman said.
"His concept of separation of church and state was radical,"
John continued, "he was before his time. Imagine, five-hundred
years ago someone suggesting the world come together as one,
retaining religious freedom for those who still cling to it, but
severing it completely from the legislative process. What did he
call it?"
"The Final Solution."
"Right. The Final Solution: complete world unity achieved
through peaceful means. A democratic system allowing the maximum of
personal liberty. All the peoples of the world joined against
common enemies: war, violence, poverty, racism, crime, and
ignorance. That's what the Four Nations is founded on."
"Maybe so, but as far as we know he never accomplished it. My
heroes are those that I know accomplished something, not some cut-
out history-hero from a schoolboy's textbook."
"Like your Jesus? Well, Mr. Spear, that's what we're here to
find out, isn't it? Why don't you turn your widget on and let's
find out who's a hero and who's not."

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